Spring is upon us and the thought of fresh flowers in the house after the gray winter is always inviting. Many flowers can be brought into the house and do not cause any problems. Lilies are not one of them.
Most lilies are extremely dangerous, however there a few that aren’t, so it’s important to know the difference. The safer types of lilies are the Peace, Peruvian, and Calla lilies. Although these will not cause death, they can cause minor issues such as tissue irritation to the mouth, tongue, and esophagus. Signs of drooling, pawing at the mouth, foaming, and vomiting may also be seen.
The most dangerous, potentially fatal lilies are true lilies of the Lilium or Hemerocallis species. These include the Day Lily, Tiger Lily, Stargazer Lily, Easter Lily, Japanese Show Lily, Asiatic Lily, and wood lilies, just to name a few.
Other types of dangerous lilies include lily of the valley. This type does not cause kidney failure, but can cause life-threatening heart arrhythmias and death when ingested by dogs or cats.
In dogs lily ingestion may cause stomach upset with vomiting and diarrhea, but with help from your veterinarian, dogs usually recover with no ill effects.
Lilies are very poisonous to the cats who share our lives. The exact chemical in the plant that creates the problem has not been identified. The leaves, flowers, stems, pollen, and the bulb of the plant can cause severe health problems if ingested. Even small ingestions, such as just a few petals or even the water from the vase can result in severe, acute kidney failure.
If cats eat any part of the lily plant, they can start showing signs of sickness within two hours after eating the plant. These signs will be vomiting, lethargy, and becoming very quiet. The vomiting usually subsides after about 12 hours, but the cat will continue to be very depressed and will stop eating. At this time, the damage to the kidneys has already been done and the blood levels of the kidney enzymes have started to increase.
If your cat ingests lilies, the first thing to do is to take them to the veterinarian and have them induce vomiting. Please do not attempt to do this at home. If you find that your cat has eaten the lily plant late at night, take your pet to the emergency clinic for care. Do not wait until the morning, as the sooner your cat receives treatment the better the outcome will be. The longer the time period from when the cat eats the plant to the beginning of treatment, the less likely the cat will survive.
Once the cat has vomited, blood work and urine testing may be recommended to assess if damage has been done to the kidneys. Then supportive care, such as IV fluids, may be given to help flush the toxins out of the system.
Your veterinarian may also recommend medications to stop any further absorption of the toxins. Sometimes cats with acute kidney damage may recover over time, if treatment is begun immediately. However, in some cases the lilies can cause enough damage to the kidneys that there is permanent damage and can even cause death.
In summary, although they are pretty, if you have a cat, to prevent lily ingestion in the first place it is best to keep lilies out of the home. If you do have lilies and suspect your cat may have ingested some, please call your veterinarian right away!
Dr Schlipf graduated from Colorado State University and has been a veterinarian for over 20yrs. She joined University Veterinary Hospital & Diagnostic Center as an Associate, after working in emergency hospitals for a long period of time. She shares her home with her husband and their many dog and cat fur children.